Almond Spritz Cookies

Did you know that almond meal is just ground up almonds? Did you know that almond butter is also just ground up almonds? The key is the length of time that you grind the almonds. You can grind roasted almonds into a powdery form (almond meal), but if you keep going, the oils from the nut cause the powder to become a paste. That’s how you make any sort of nut butter. Try it at home sometime – it’s healthier than the store-bought stuff that’s generally laden with chemical preservatives.

I find it interesting that while I love the flavor of almonds, I can’t really stand them in any sort of solid form. I love almond meal in cookies and cakes, and almond flavoring, but if you put chunks of almonds into my food, I won’t eat them. It goes for all nuts actually. I will, however, eat them plain or in a trail mix. Go figure, call it a quirk.

Anyway, I have almond spritz cookies for you today. Except these didn’t spritz. The dough wasn’t wet enough to extrude properly. Either way, this recipe was almondy delicious and a hit at the BBQ I took them to. Since I couldn’t get the dough to come out of a cookie press, I rolled tablespoon-sized balls and slightly flattened them with a fork before baking.

For a hint of brightness and to really bring out the flavors, add the zest of one lemon to your cookie dough.

Almond “Spritz” Cookies | Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Ingredients

1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened (about 70 degrees)
2/3 cup sugar (about 4 3/4 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon table salt

Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. In small bowl, beat yolk, cream, and almond extract with fork until combined; set aside. Grind almonds and 2 tablespoons of the flour in food processor until powdery and evenly fine, about 60 seconds. Combine almond mixture with remaining flour in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. In standing mixer, cream butter, sugar, and salt at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula. With mixer running at medium speed, add yolk/cream mixture and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl. With mixer running at low speed, gradually beat in flour/almond mixture until combined. Scrape down bowl and give final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain.
  3. If using cookie press to form cookies, follow manufacturer’s instructions to fill press; if using pastry bag, follow illustrations 1 through 3 below to fill bag. Press or pipe cookies onto ungreased baking sheets, spacing them about 1-1/2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Cool cookies on baking sheet until just warm, 10 to 15 minutes; using metal spatula, transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature.
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Mixed Fruit Tart and Lemon Orzo

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Hey! I’m back! I disappeared for just a little bit for a break. But don’t worry, I was still cooking and baking during that break… I just haven’t had a chance to update. But you still love me right? To make up for my silence, I present to you a double post today!

I recently threw a dinner party which was originally meant for a handful of people but it ended up ballooning out to about four handfuls. It was a pretty ambitious effort for my first dinner party, but I think it turned out well and everyone seemed to get along. (But that could’ve been the wine talking!)

Anyway, here are the two star dishes of the party: a frangipane mixed fruit tart, and a creamy, lemony orzo dish.

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Chocolate Pear Tart

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It’s pear week! I bought too many at the store this past weekend to eat before they go bad, so here’s another pear tart for you. This time it involves chocolate, so it’s a win-win situation! The recipe today hails from Jamie Oliver’s website.  You may or may not know him as host of the Food Network show, The Naked Chef. This recipe of his… pure genius. If I could call in love with a dessert, this one might be it.

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Damp Lemon and Almond Cake

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Now originally, I made this cake for C, who was supposed to come over and hang with me in SF for the day. Long story short, plans fell through, so my co-workers got the privilege. C!!!! That teaches you for forgetting your laptop charger!

Anyway, C loves lemon. And almond. So naturally this was the recipe for her. I pulled it out of Nigella Lawson’s book, How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking, which I love but haven’t really baked much out of. Nigella is an admirable woman. She is a firm believer of being a “domestic goddess” and that such a role is no less challenging nor respectable than any other role a woman can have in this day and age. Domestic life now has  a negative connotation associated with it, what with the whole feminist movement, but Nigella slaps back with a “look at me, I’m successful, I’m sexy, AND I work wonders in the kitchen” attitude. I love it!

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So about the cake itself. I loved the taste, but texturally it didn’t come out quite like I had expected. So here’s my tip to you, because it may save your cake. Use a regular cake pan! Or if you must use a springform pan like the recipe indicates, please, please wrap the pan with foil. Halfway through my cake’s baking time, I had the unfortunate discovery that my springform pan was leaking all the good lemon juice I had added to the batter. At 1am, having a smoky, burnt lemon syrup mess on my oven floor was beyond upsetting. Baker beware! I think I need new springform pans…

In any case, despite the mishap with the pan, the cake was still delicious, albeit ugly. 🙂

Nigella’s Damp Lemon and Almond Cake

Ingredients
1 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1/3 cup cake and pastry flour
1 1/3 cups ground almonds
1 tsp almond extract
zest and juice of two lemons

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350F; line the bottom of one 8″ (or four 4″) springform pan with parchment paper. (Or use a regular cake pan, and line the sides with parchment paper too.)

Cream together the butter and the sugar until almost white. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a quarter of the flour after each addition. When all the eggs and flour have been incorporated, gently stir in the ground almonds, then the almond extract, lemon zest and juice. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake for about 1 hour, checking after 50 minutes – you may have to cover the cake loosely with foil after 30 minutes so the top won’t burn.

The cake is ready when the top is firm and a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake. Don’t overbake the cake or it won’t be damp.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes in the pan; then turn out onto a wire rack and leave till cool.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Almond Cookies

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Ah, the Chinese almond cookie. Last time I was out with A and some coworkers, we started talking about how awesome they were. Since I had some leftover ground up almonds after making Nigella’s Damp Almond Lemon Cake (post coming soon), I decided to make some Chinese almond cookies.

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